The First Day of Class: 20 ‘Quick and Dirty’ Tips for Professors

It’s easy for a student to find tips on how they can prepare for their first class in college, but what about tips for Professors? So, here are some ‘quick-and-dirty’ tips that will help make that first class a great experience, not only for yourself, but for your students as well.

© 2012 ‘Chalk Stick Cartoon’, by Phil Jones

  • Have patience if students arrive late on the first day. It can be pretty nerve-racking for them on that first day. They’re trying to find their classes, look for a
    parking space (good luck), and deal with all of the increased traffic (on the road and in the halls) around the campus. Don’t add to their stress once they finally do get to your class.
  • Arrive to the classroom early to set up, just in case you have to deal with any unforeseen Audio/Visual issues that may arise (and have the A/V contact number handy).
  • Double-check the college ‘scheduling system’ the night before the first class, just to make sure there haven’t been any last minute room changes (speaking from personal experience).
  • Set the tone. Be a bit more ‘reserved’ with your personality style and assume the ‘role’ of professor.  Students have to know they are in a professional and serious classroom environment from the outset. Some students will take advantage of a teacher’s ‘good nature’; remember, you’re not their friend, you’re their prof.
  • Put your name, course name, and course number on the board or have the information projected up on a slide, so that students know they are in the right class.
  • Dress up. Dress at least one level ‘nicer’ than your students.
  • Have a ‘plan B’ and make sure to have a backup of your files (on a usb stick, the ‘cloud’, ‘Dropbox’).
  • Do something cool.  Step back and look at what you have planned for the first class and ask yourself, “Is the the most interesting and creative way of delivering this content?”
  • Before you walk into the class, check for ‘wardrobe malfunctions’.
  • Don’t talk about your personal life and NEVER talk about your personal problems…in fact, don’t do this at ANY time during the semester.
  • Be in control of the classroom environment. It is your responsibility to manage the classroom. Diffuse any ‘student attitude’ situations that may arise in a professional manner; some students will try to ‘test’ you before you test them.
  • Know your ‘stuff’: course content, assignment details, due dates, and department policies. If you are confident knowing this information, you won’t be nervous.
  • Don’t tell them that you have “never taught before”; you’ll get eaten alive. Vice versa, don’t ramble on telling them every detail of your qualifications. The fact that you’re standing there means you have the qualifications.
  • Don’t tell them you “forgot to bring something” or “I had planned on doing this but…”; they don’t know or even care, so why say anything?
  • Don’t cut the class short. Some students may like that you do this, however, many who are keen to learn and who have worked hard to pay for tuition, will resent you for it.
  • Use a breathing technique that actors use to calm their nerves before going on stage; yawn a couple of times (before class, not in front of the class). It relaxes your jaw muscles and it will give you a quick boost of oxygen.
  • If there is ‘chatter’ (usually in the back row and corners) while you’re talking, address it right away by asking the student(s) if they have a question, or walk near them while you talk. You must stop ‘chatter’ right away or they’ll think it’s acceptable. Plus, it’s annoying for everyone sitting around them.
  • Devise an ‘attention-getter’ right at the outset of the class. If it’s a good one, they’ll focus on you right away, and up until break time (and make sure to give a break – see my comments regarding ‘BDNF’ and attention-span in the post, ‘The Lecture is NOT Dead’).
  • Take a cue from marketing expert, Jay Conrad Levinson, and his concept of radio station ‘WIFM’ (What’s in it for Me?). Make sure you tell students the benefits to them for knowing the material.
  • Don’t drink a lot of water or tea/coffee before class or you might be the one needing to leave for a bathroom break in the middle of class! A tip for women, lean down and vigorously scratch your calf (don’t believe me, check out this article).

The first day of class sets the tone for the entire semester, so make sure to spend a substantial amount of time ‘prepping’ and doing  ‘dry-runs’ in the classroom beforehand. Focus your time and energy on getting ready for that first class when you return from summer vacation. Don’t get caught up in all the “How was your summer?” informal get-togethers, non-priority email requests, and other time drains that will take away from your preparation time. It is your responsibility to take care of your number one priority…your students.

Do you have a ‘quick and dirty’ tip that has worked for you?

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  1. Great article Phil.

  2. Thanks Brian. I wrote this because I wish I had known some of these tips when I taught my first class!

  3. Wendy Duross says:

    As a first time professor, I enjoyed the tips you provided. While I have practiced much of what you say previously, it is nice to have it reinforced.

  4. That’s great you have used a lot of these in your previous teaching. As you said, even if it’s just reinforcing what you have tried out, it gives confidence in what you are doing. Thanks for the comment Wendy and have a great semester teaching at a new college.

  5. Sali Bakare says:

    Yes indeed. I like the one about the first day of classes. Thank you.